Supreme Court orders release of Mohammed Zubair

Alt News co-founder released hours after supreme court order

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Mohammed Zubair, director of Alt-News Photo: The Wire
Mohammed Zubair, director of Alt-News Photo: The Wire

New Delhi, 20 July 2022: The Times of India has reported that the Supreme Court of India granted interim bail to Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of Alt News in the seven FIRs lodged against him in the state of Uttar Pradesh while emphasizing that ‘Existence of power of arrest must be distinguished from power of arrest, which should be used sparingly.’ The Court also refused to impose a bail condition that Zubair should not tweet again.

The Supreme Court ordered an immediate release for Zubair while fixing a 6 pm deadline on 20 July 2022 for the Tihar Jail superintendent, the daily reported. Zubair will be released post presentation of a bail bond of Rs 20,000. A court in Delhi had already granted Zubair bail on 15 July in the original case that he was arrested for and this was cited by the supreme court bench.

The seven FIRs registered against Zubair in UP – two in Hathras with one each in Lakhimpur Kheri, Ghaziabad, Sitapur, Muzzafarnagar, and Chandauli police stations. The Supreme Court also transferred all these FIRs lodged in UP against Zubair for allegedly outraging religious sentiments for investigation by the Delhi Police. These seven FIRs have now been grouped along with the existing FIR lodged by a special cell of Delhi Police. The special cell is also investigating Zubair’s tweets. This Court’s decision will also be applicable to FIRs filed against the tweets in the future

The Delhi Police had arrested Mohammed Zubair on 27 June on the basis of his 2018 tweet for allegedly hurting the religious sentiments of Hindus. Since the arrest, Zubair has spent most of his time moving between courts and prisons.

Zubair co-founded Alt News in 2017 with Pratik Sinha with the aim of combating fake news. In its five years of existence from 2017 to 2022, Alt News has played a key role in combating misinformation about religion and caste in the Indian subcontinent.

‘How can we restrain a journalist, or anyone for that matter, from tweeting?’

After the supreme court bench headed by Justice Chandrachud granted interim bail to Zubair, the additional advocate general appearing for the Uttar Pradesh government requested the court to restrain him from posting offensive tweets in the future. The bench rejected the request and said, “How can we restrain a journalist, or anyone for that matter, from tweeting? It is like asking a lawyer not to argue. If he posts tweets in violation of the law, he would be answerable for it. Every citizen is answerable for what he says in public. We can’t say he will not tweet again.”

The supreme court bench added, “Essentially gravamen of allegations against the petitioner are the tweets posted by him. Having found from the record the petitioner has been subjected to a very sustained investigation by Delhi Police, we find no reason or justification for deprivation of liberty of the petitioner to persist any further.”

The order added, “It is settled principle of law that the existence of power of arrest shall be distinguished from the exercise of the power of arrest. The exercise of power of arrest must be pursued sparingly.”

Updated on the basis of news reports quoting UNI and LiveLaw at 715am 21 July 2022.

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